Thursday, June 29, 2017

Observations on the Latest Saddleback Developments

What a week for Saddleback! The long rumored Australian buyer surfaced and the Majella group has executed an agreement with the Berry family to allow them to go full steam ahead in getting
Saddleback ready to ski again! The final deal closing is expected later this summer.
Warden's Worry at Saddleback

For those looking to catch up here are some observations / facts of the deal with some random thoughts thrown in:

Interesting mix of old and new, local and “from away” - As Majella CEO Sebastian Monsour said at the press conference “As you can see, I am truly from away. There are few places that are further from here than Australia.” How true this is. I went to Australia once. I left on a Wednesday afternoon and landed in Sydney on Friday morning with Thursday mysteriously vaporizing. However, Fred LaMontage who has long ties with the city of Portland along with former Saddleback finance director Greg Andrews and Rangeley real estate developer Perry Williams will be part of the new management team. And in my opinion in a very strong move Jim Quimby will come back as the on-mountain manager. I always thought the on-hill operations was run very well under Jim’s leadership and it is great to see him stay on with the new ownership group. I am sure we will some some familiar and new faces as the team rounds out. It is a good mix of old and new to bring Saddleback to the next chapter.

Be open to change - Mr. Monsour said at the press conference. “So we are making this commitment to you today that not only will we be turning Saddleback into the premier ski resort in North America, but also into a four-season resort that we know and all think it deserves to be.” This is a big statement. It will require capital and change. It will be interesting to see how the new ownership group will move forward on this goal. One of the reasons I loved Saddleback, affordable with rarely any significant lift lines and trails all to myself, is exactly the reason why it did not work as a business model. They need more skiers and more revenue... period. And to do that they need more entertainment, recreational and lodging offerings at the ski area. It is that simple. Us Saddlebacker’s need to be open to change, embrace it and know that without it, we will not be able to enjoy the mountain... and cross our fingers that we can still afford it!

First up - new lifts - They have already started the design process for lifts to replace the Rangeley Double and T-Bar. The Rangeley will be replaced with a fixed gripped quad (think Sugarloaf’s Skyline lift) and the T-Bar will get a new surface lift. Both solid replacements and the owners have decided not to go high-speed detachable.  I wonder if some of these older lifts will serve future expansion? Time will tell. Majella is sinking some major money in early… a good sign.

And be patient - The new ownership group is basically starting over. They have a mountain that has been shuttered for two years that they have to bring back to life. They have to hire staff, get marketing & the website setup, get food service setup, install two lifts and all that goes with that, get all the business permits, set up an accounting and HR system, get the ski school and rental shops going, interface with the condo associations and local businesses, and on and on and on. They have not committed to an opening date this year and I don’t blame them! As they said in the press conference “When our team has a date that ensures we can deliver to you the skiing experience that all of you deserve, you will know, and it’s as simple as that.” We have to take them at their word.

So this is an exciting time. The Saddleback Facebook page has come back to life and they are already engaging with their customers. There are a million questions that everyone has, their press release and FAQ answers a lot of them, but more questions and answers to come. It won’t be a perfect roll out, they admit as much, but they seem ready to dive in to make things happen and learn from their mistakes. I am very glad the people and businesses of Rangeley will have more places to work and more visitors to fill up the restaurants and lodging establishments.

The @MaineSkiFamily crew sincerely welcomes Majella group to Maine. We wish them all the best and we are looking forward to skiing our favorite Saddleback trails again when the time is right.


Tuesday, June 27, 2017


So a press conference is scheduled for Wednesday, June 27, 2017 at the SADDLEBACK MAINE base lodge where according to the Portland Press Herald in attendance will be "the resort’s sellers, Bill and Irene Berry, the future owners of the resort and representatives from Maine’s congressional delegation."
This is great news for the Rangeley region. My hope is that the lifts will spin again for the skiers and condo owners, people will be employed again at Saddleback and the Rangeley area restaurants and lodging establishments will be full this winter.
It is very likely that the good folks behind the Saddleback Mountain Foundation are not part of the new ownership group. Before it gets lost in the shuffle tomorrow - I want to personally send out a big thank you to Peter Stein and all the people behind the foundations effort. You kept the Saddleback spirit alive during these dark and trying times.
It will be interesting to hear the plans of the new ownership group. We will all find out together tomorrow. Maybe, just maybe... this winter will be the start of a new chapter at Saddleback.

Monday, March 20, 2017

First day of Spring - Plenty of Skiing Left

@ISalisbury Ripping Up the Fresh "Stella" Snow at Sugarloaf
I haven’t been posting as much on the blog this year as we have been relying on Twitter and Facebook to post about our Maine ski days. Since today is the first day of spring I thought this would be a good time post to the blog with an update on our adventures in 2017 and to remind everyone that there is plenty of great skiing still to be had this year!

@MaineSkiFamily Old Man Enjoying a Perfect March Day at Sugarloaf

We have had some really good ski days this year. Most recently at Sugarloaf, we skied the aftermath of “Winter Storm Stella” on Wednesday and had a perfect, bluebird March ski day on Sunday. These were two spectacular ski days that we will remember for a long time. Sugarloaf is set up well for the spring ski season with a deep base on their trails.

Skiing on our Boyne New England pass has been fun this year. We got some early season ski days in at Sunday River and skied a bunch of days at Sugarloaf. We also have hit up two of our favorite mid-sized mountains in Mt. Abram and Black Mountain of Maine.

Followers of this blog know that we significantly miss Saddleback of course. The second season in a row that the mountain has not been able to open. Some people have been able to hike the mountain and get some "earn your turn" ski runs in which is fun to see on social media. The Saddleback Mountain Foundation, a community group organized to purchase Saddleback, recently named a board of directors and are actively seeking to submit their 501 3(c) non-profit application. So there must be enough interest from the Saddleback current owners to keep this effort by the foundation moving forward? I hope there is a positive outcome for next ski season. Here is a link to the latest update from the foundation and keep an eye for a new foundation website launch soon at this URL.

I find spring skiing a lot of fun. I very much dislike mud season in the lowlands… but it is great to be able to escape to the mountains of Maine and carve up the soft spring corn snow. So don’t let the “first day of spring’ banter diminish your ski days! The sun is high and bright! The temperatures are comfortable and there is fun abound! March and April are great times to ski in Maine!

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Black Mountain of Maine - December 30-31 2016 - 100% Open and 100% Fun

During the summer and fall of 2015, the Angry Beavers of Black Mountain Maine worked hard to expand the gladed terrain at Black. Then we got the winter we would rather forget a.k.a. NO SNOW so they were not able to enjoy the fruits of their efforts. That did not deter them, and they kept cutting the summer and fall of 2016. Finally, they were rewarded with a two foot snowstorm and @MaineSkiFamily happily skied the many new glades at Black.

@AlecPhoto and @ISalisbury enjoying the new Wild glade at Black Mountain of Maine
Black was 100% open today! We are silver pass holders at Sugarloaf and Sunday River so we were blacked out during Christmas vacation week, but we don't mind as we love to explore other mountains in Maine. At $37 the ticket rate is absolutely the best skiing value in Maine. Black has nice cruisers, a great bump run under the main triple chair and enough glades to keep everyone happy all day. I highly recommend Black!

Here is an old man bump run under the chair for all the @MaineSkiFamily fans on the lift. ;-)

And the boys found plenty of hucks in the woods.

Lastly a video edit for December 30, 2016. Lots of great shots of the new gladed terrain at Black. Enjoy and get to Black!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

2016-17 Ski Season in Maine off to a Strong Start!

What a difference a year makes. Here is a picture of Sugarloaf from last year (December 18, 2016). Yuck!

Yesterday (December 17)  we had a EPIC day at Sugarloaf. The 6" received during the day on Saturday on top of the 8" from earlier in the week, plus the cold snowmaking temps over the last few
It was fresh snow all day at Sugarloaf (Dec 17, 2016)
weeks have really opened things up. They are skiing about 77 trails with open terrain from the top of the old Bucksaw lift in the east over to the King Pine lift area in the west.

Reports from all over Maine have been excellent. Sunday River, Mt. Abram, Lost Valley, Big Rock, Shawnee Peak all have great coverage and terrain open. While today's weather is mixed and messy, more cold weather is in the forecast and conditions should bounce back quickly. On the right sidebar of the blog I have added a link to get up to date Maine ski area mountain reports directly from their respective websites.

My youngest son took advantage of his closer proximity to Sugarloaf (he is a freshman at Thomas College in Waterville) and got in a powder day at Sugarloaf on Monday December 12th as well. After last year's miserable season, it is great to see skiing in Maine off to such a strong start!

Here are a couple of our video compilations from our two recent powder days. Enjoy the videos and all of us @MaineSkiFamily wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year... and Happy Skiing!

December 12, 2016 - Sugarloaf

December 17, 2016 - Sugarloaf

Thursday, December 15, 2016

December 14 Update from the Saddleback Mountain Foundation

Latest update from the community group / Peter Stein.

We have made great progress since my last report.
The Saddleback Mountain Foundation’s Articles of Incorporation for registration as a non-profit have been prepared and sent to the state for processing. For this, a mission statement is required and we wanted to share it with you.
“The Saddleback Mountain Foundation is committed to conserving and protecting Saddleback Mountain and the Saddleback Mountain ski area, providing access to the mountain and mountain resort for all to experience, through model conservation and economic development programs.”
We are very proud of this mission statement, and all who are now founding members of the Saddleback Mountain Community Resort, and those that intend to join, should take pride as well.
Now that we are -- or very soon will be -- incorporated as a non-profit, we are preparing our application for tax-exempt 501(c)(3) status. Our hope is to submit this by the end the month with a request for expedited processing. We are told it can happen quite fast if there is good reason.
For those that might be confused, we are no longer entertaining the concept of selling equity ownership in our community resort as a bridge to ownership by the non-profit. This change in course takes us directly to a closing where the Saddleback Mountain Foundation purchases the land and ski area assets and the Saddleback Mountain Community Resort (SMCR, LLC) is a wholly owned subsidiary.
On the fund raising side, we are now raising the required funds in two pots:
Sales of memberships in our Saddleback Mountain Community Resort
Gifts or pledges to the non-profit Saddleback Mountain Foundation
On the membership sales, we are approximately 40% of the way to the goal and have received enrollments forms from 12% of those that responded to the survey. This is good news because we are also running well ahead of the survey results. Membership sales exceeded the total commitment for 4-years from those in the survey by over 10%. The survey results showed total commitments of close to $3 million and we are running ahead of those sales. We are confident that when comfortable with the plan, the rest of the respondents to the survey and many others will enroll in our community resort and we will easily make the membership sales goal.
On gifts to the foundation, we are 1/3 of the way to the initial goal after connecting with a small percentage of those who have previously made a verbal commitment. We now have confidence that we can and will reach the goal of getting our ski area back up and running.
For those that bought memberships with credit cards, we have not run them yet. We are holding the information in safe storage while we continue to work a solution. We now know what the next steps are and are confident we can solve the problem with a little more time. We will update you when we have more information and contact you prior to running the credit card. If at any point you would prefer or be able to send in a check, it does help the initiative significantly to have the cash on hand and save on the credit card processing fee. In this case, there is no need to contact us. Please send in a new membership form, note that you have a credit card purchase on file, and we will happily cash your check and void your credit card number.
I want to personally thank everybody for their support over the last few months. It has now been 8 months since we started this process together, and I think our combined passion is about to accomplish something amazing.
I also want to encourage everyone to get out skiing. I skied The Loaf Sunday and Sunday River today. The conditions were fantastic at both mountains - both of these are also gems in the state of Maine. You can feel a great ski season developing and I have a feeling it will just get better and better.
Finally, at this holiday season I wish you and yours peace, comfort, family, friends, and all good times. If you do not hear from me, please know I am pushing as hard as I can while also taking a bit of time to enjoy the good stuff.
Peter Stein

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Early 2016-17 Maine Ski Observations

First runs down Sugarloaf
The @MaineSkiFamily crew have been out on skis 3 times this year. Once at Sunday River and twice at Sugarloaf. Yes, this year we decided to purchase the New England Silver pass / College passes
from Boyne. We will be blacked out on some vacation days but that will give us the opportunity to visit some other mountains which we always love to do.

Here are some quick early season observations of Skiing in Maine.

Chairlift Issues delayed Sunday River Opening - With the Locke chairlift down for repairs, they were not able to get a mid-mountain opening earlier this year. Therefore they had to wait until temperatures were cold enough to make snow down to the bottom of Aurora and Barker. That pushed them a good two weeks later than normal. Once open, the Aurora and Barker chairs were not connected via a snow made ski trail, which required a shuttle bus to get between. Regardless, they can still crank out snow like no other. So while this year early season was not ideal but things will get back to normal next year when the chairlift repairs are complete.

Angry Beavers of Black Mountain have been Busy - I have been keeping an eye on the Angry Beavers as they expand the gladed terrain at Black Mountain of Maine. The mountain also has a few new ways down the hill this year. I am looking forward to heading over there on a good snow day and sample all the new goods. This mountain continues to be one of the best values in Maine.

Sugarloaf off to a Strong Start - In my two visits Sugarloaf seems to be firing on all cylinders. Good snowmaking; Chairlifts running smoothly; organized base lodge operations. So far so good! We will be spending a lot of time there this year so we are looking forward to a strong year.

Another year without a fully running Saddleback - We are faced with another year of no lift serviced skiing at Saddleback. A community organization called the Saddleback Mountain Foundation is making a strong effort to purchase the mountain and they have already raised over $1MM dollars towards a $4MM goal. Hopefully they can continue to make significant progress and we can look forward to next year. I am looking forward to seeing the "hike for Saddleback turns" reports on social media after a big snow dump.

Early Season Skiing at Sugarloaf
Early Season Skiing Always Challenging - We experienced this December 3rd at Sugarloaf... a.k.a. the White Run of Death (WROD).  Lots of people of varying ability levels skiing down the one and only trail to the lift. This time of year you just have to be patient, get a few runs under your belt and know that more terrain will open soon!

It is great to get back on the snow and we are looking forward to a more normal snow year and a great year for all the ski mountains in Maine. Get out there and enjoy it!